In the baseball agent's perfect world, the consummate free agent would have the leverage of past achievement, the promise of youth. He would be tall. He would be strong. He would hit from both sides of the plate, possess Gold Glove credentials. And he would be regarded as a true professional.
|MAZZ'S HOT STOVE SERIES: Continuing today and ending on Nov. 13, the day before free agents can sign with any team, the Globe's Tony Massarotti will tackle an offseason topic of interest to Red Sox fans each day. Check out the schedule below.|
Shortstop in focus
Yankees: Under construction
Handicapping the field of potential Manny suitors
Top prize: Mark Teixeira
Potential Sox trade partners
Big-ticket starters and the art of building a bullpen
Tony's best- and worst-case offseason scenarios for the Red Sox and Yankees
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Most important, he would be coveted by those who matter most.
Mark Teixeira just completed his sixth major league season in October, when he went 7 for 15 (a .467 average) with four walks for the Los Angeles Angels against the Red Sox in his first career postseason appearance. He will not turn 29 until April. Teixeira is a switch-hitter with a career OPS of .935 from the left side of the plate, .912 from the right. He has won two Gold Gloves at first base and a pair of Silver Slugger Awards.
Over the last six seasons - the length of his career - Teixeira ranks fifth in the major leagues in RBI behind only Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, and Manny Ramirez. Among those players, only Ramirez is also a free agent, and only the 28-year-old Pujols is also under 30. That leaves Teixeira with the profitable distinction of being both.
"There are very few players in sports who offer a team a franchise face, the completeness of offense, defense, and of being a good teammate - and we have, for the first time, an idea of his ability in postseason play," said agent Scott Boras, who represents Teixeira. "You're talking really about a franchise player."
A sales pitch?
But in this case, all of it also happens to be true.
Not chump change
At the foundation of every negotiation, without exception, rests a fundamental concept: supply and demand. Without the latter, the former is worthless.
In Teixeira's case, demand this offseason could be at an all-time high.
Typically, when a player like Teixeira reaches free agency, the market for him is relatively small for the simple reason that few teams can afford him. Despite their success, the Tampa Bay Rays will not bid for Teixeira's services. Neither will the Florida Marlins. Only those clubs with sizeable resources have the flexibility to invest in someone like Teixeira, whose price this offseason could border on the stratospheric.
So where will that number end up?
Consider this: At the 2007 trading deadline, the Texas Rangers traded Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves after the player (and his agent) rejected what club officials believed was an aggressive, competitive offer to retain him. That package was worth a reported $144 million over eight seasons, an average of precisely $18 million per year. That has led many to believe that Teixeira's asking price this winter could approach a whopping $23 million to $25 million per season, regardless of where his final average salary lands.
One American League executive recently noted that Teixeira has been eyeing this offseason for quite some time, with the intention of becoming one of the highest-paid players in the game. In that way, he has been Boras's ideal client. Teixeira has been traded twice in roughly the last year and a half, all because he wants the right to choose for whom he plays - and for how much. This is his first shot at free agency.
In July, seeking to fortify their lineup for the stretch run, the Angels acquired Teixeira from the Braves for a package including young first baseman Casey Kotchman. The Angels' failure to win the World Series has led to considerable speculation that the club will seek to retain Teixeira despite what could be a fierce and extremely expensive bidding process.
After all, the Angels alone are not in the market for a hitter to anchor the middle of their lineup. Having dealt Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the July 31 trading deadline, the Red Sox have had discussions that suggest they will make Teixeira their top priority this off-season. Boston's need comes at a time when the rival New York Yankees missed the postseason for the first time since baseball's last work stoppage (1994) and are moving into a new stadium, all while the Yankees have pared tens of millions from a payroll that can now grow even larger.
Get the picture?
The Angels want Teixeira. The Red Sox want Teixeira. The Yankees want Teixeira.
And they all have money to burn.
"We haven't figured it out yet. Everything he's swinging at, he's hitting," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said of Teixeira during the AL playoffs. "He hit a ball neck-high the other day. We didn't want to let a guy like that start feeling good about himself, and that's exactly what he's doing. He's getting to everything right now."
Including, it seems, to pay dirt.
A good fit
With regard to the Red Sox, in particular, Teixeira seems that rare talent for whom they will make an exception. Although Sox officials placed Ramirez (and his exorbitant contract) on waivers following the 2003 season, they also paid an astonishing $51.11 million merely for the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka. Total costs for acquiring Matsuzaka exceeded $103 million during the same winter in which the Sox spent $70 million on outfielder J.D. Drew and an additional $36 million on Julio Lugo.
Now, to borrow a phrase from former Sox GM Lou Gorman, comes the question that every Sox follower asks next:
Where would they put him?
By all accounts, the Sox' primary plan to accommodate Teixeira would involve moving Kevin Youkilis to third base and trading Mike Lowell, who currently has two years (and $25 million remaining) on a three-year, $37.5 million contract. Last offseason, Lowell actually turned down more money from the Philadelphia Phillies, who might again have interest in Lowell depending on how he recovers from hip surgery.
Regardless, this much seems clear: The Red Sox fully and thoroughly intend to explore the possibility of signing Teixeira during an off-season in which Ramirez and pitchers CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets, Derek Lowe and A.J. Burnett are all free agents. For a Sox club that takes great care in assessing risk, Teixeira is a far safer option that any pitcher, and the combination of his age and productivity makes him ideal to fill the salary spot once occupied by Ramirez.
During his career, after all, Teixeira has averaged 151 games per season.
Should the Red Sox succeed, Boston could further solidify a foundation that would allow the franchise an extended run at more world titles. Entering next season, depending on what the Sox do at catcher, right fielder Drew (33) and designated hitter Ortiz (33) would be the only regular Sox position players over the age of 30, and the Red Sox pitching staff, too, would be relatively young and accomplished. All of that only puts greater emphasis on Teixeira, who would give the Sox the kind of lineup centerpiece that Theo Epstein's player development system has yet to truly produce.
Up to now, the only problem is that Mark Teixeira has planned for this as much as the Red Sox.
This article also appeared in this week's OT magazine.
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